Time for "Recess!"
Pilot radio program just one of the projects-in-progress at the Center for the Study of Children's Literature and Media
Pull one string and you hear the gentle bleating of a lamb. Pull another and you're serenaded by a cow. The newest interactive toy from Fisher Price? Hardly. Over 100 years old, this surprisingly well-preserved Victorian talking book is part of the University of Florida's extensive Baldwin Collection of Historical Children's Literature, which contains over 90,000 volumes including a 17th century edition of Aesop's Fables, pop-up books from the 18th and 19th centuries, the first American edition of Alice in Wonderland, and complete runs of 20th century adventure series like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. The Baldwin's impressive holdings have inspired a series of new initiatives, designed by the Center for the Study of Children's Literature and Media to bring the breadth of UF's children's studies expertise and resources into the national spotlight.
The interdisciplinary Center, directed by children's book author and UF professor of English John Cech, premiered its first new project on August 31: a pilot radio series called "Recess!", offered free of charge to all National Public Radio (NPR) affiliates across the country. Created for adults, the three-minute show, which airs daily on UF's Classic 89 WUFT, explores the rich mosaic of children's literature and media, past and present.
"Along with a great deal of helpful information, the program is full of surprises," Cech promises. "We offer regular reviews of the latest children's books and recordings, as well as previews of current movies at the multiplexes and the best of the new cartoons and TV shows. We also feature interviews with leading creators of works for children and with those making news or interesting contributions to the dynamic mix of elements that form children's culture."
Early segments of "Recess!" have included a review of teenage author Chloe Weber's Mia Hamm Rocks!, a reading of the original "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," a history of child labor on Labor day, and a tribute to Charlotte's Web author E.B. White on the anniversary of his death. Whether it's an episode on the growing popularity of kid's music featuring snippets of Dr. Suess's "Yertle the Turtle" sung by the Red Hot Chile Peppers and "Rainy Day Blues" performed by B.B. King, or an interview with UN International School Director Sylvia Fuhrman on United Nations Literacy Day, "Recess!" both informs and inspires.
And, of course, the Baldwin Library plays an integral part in Center programs. Baldwin Curator Rita Smith (the Center's assistant director) is a regular guest on "Recess!" discussing such novelties as the lively book inscriptions and turn-of-the-century baseball cards she has found amongst the collection's eclectic pages.
If successful, "Recess!"--a co-production of CLAS, the Department of English and the College of Journalism and Communications--may attract vital support for future Center for the Study of Children's Literature and Media efforts. "We hope the first radio segments will be a magnet for funding support from those sources interested in bringing literature and the arts into the lives of families," Cech explains.
The Center plans to produce video documentaries, design arts and literature programs for museums, libraries and school systems, and sponsor lecture series and conferences on topics of children's culture.
"Eventually, we'd like to host an international conference on the role of the children's book in the 21st Century," says Cech. "As our world becomes increasingly wired, what's going to happen to the traditional form of the book? How will it be transformed for our grandchildren?"
Rather than champion the book above all else, however, Cech remains cautiously optimistic about the potential of the media. "Whether we like it or not, the media have taken on the role of story-teller and culture-giver for many kids today, a fact of our present reality that asks us to examine what these new narrative modes are offering children." In fact, Cech hopes to include such significant trend-setters as the Disney and Nickelodeon studios in the discussion. "We have to find ways to open dialogues among the many groups that are involved in educating children," he says. "Although the tendency of the academic community is to dismiss the producers of commercial works, I think we should look carefully at what these companies are generating for young people, hear their ideas and let them hear ours. Who knows where such a conversation might lead?"
Find out more about "Recess!" and other Center for the Study of Children's Literature and Media initiatives at the Center's Web site <www.recess.ufl.edu>.